At Artspeak, Presentation House Gallery, and various sites around Vancouver until August 6
Territory, Helga Pakasaar says, is an amorphous project, dispersing itself throughout the city. It takes place not only at two widely separated galleries””Artspeak in Gastown and Presentation House on the North Shore””but also through billboards, signage, posters, outdoor video projections, film screenings, parks, easements, and what the PHG curator calls “indeterminate” spaces around town. The exhibition concerns itself with mapping urban experience, she adds, exploring aspects of civic space and investigating contested terrains.
We're walking in the 000 block of West Cordova Street. Buses, cars, and trucks roar by, budget shoppers step in and out of doorways, binners push their carts along. Pakasaar, who, with Artspeak's director-curator Melanie O'Brian, organized Territory to coincide with the recent World Urban Forum, is touring me past a few photographs by local artist Jayce Salloum.
For his contribution to Territory, untitled: location/dis-location, Salloum has installed 30 different shots of unpeopled urban scenes (both interior and exterior) in storefront windows around the Downtown Eastside. He has also inserted some in the two sponsoring galleries, in the Carnegie Centre's newsletter, and in 20 bus shelters around town. The work calls our attention to conditions of change and stasis, beauty and poverty, and inclusion and marginality in Vancouver.
At one location on the mini-tour, a group of street youth are encamped on the sidewalk, beneath an overhanging roof. We find a path through their blankets and sleeping bags to look at Salloum's photo mounted in the window behind them. One of the group pitches sarcastic remarks at us regarding the project, then another demands that we leave. “Respect our privacy,” she says.
Given the show's negotiation of ideas of territory, of fixed and shifting boundaries within the urban sphere, and given, too, Salloum's contrast of inside and outside views, it's a startling reality-versus-theory moment. Critics and curators talk about the “porous” nature of the interface between public and private. Homeless people live it.
Territory's roster of artists is both local and international: Vancouverites Salloum, Ron Terada, and Roy Arden; Yael Bartana, an Israeli who lives part-time in Amsterdam; Cao Fei from Guangzhou; Gonzalo Lebrija from Guadalajara; Walid Raad from Beirut; Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, based in Puerto Rico; Seripop (Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau) from Montreal; and Germaine Koh, a Canadian artist who describes herself as itinerant.
A number of the international artists focus on the confrontation between an increasingly globalized, technologized, and homogenized urban present and a traditional and culturally distinctive past. Allora and Calzadilla's DVD Amphibious makes explicit visual reference to that very phenomenon””and to international networks of trade and exchange””in the Pearl River Delta of China. Their camera drifts downstream in the company of six turtles sitting on a log, past freighters and fishing boats, container ports and brick shacks, industrial sites and residential towers. The turtles stare and stare, seemingly prehistoric witnesses to our postcolonial patterns of production and consumption.
Cao Fei's DVDs describe the impact of development and globalization on Guangzhou and its inhabitants. In Milkman, she follows her lonely subject as he makes his deliveries by bicycle during the day and is bombarded with sexual messages from popular culture each night. In COSplayers, a group of costumed Chinese youth, mimicking Japanese animé and manga characters, battle their way through weirdly dissonant scenes of glass towers and fields. Then they return to the hot, tiny apartments they listlessly””perhaps hopelessly””share with their parents.
Bartana preoccupies herself with the effects of prolonged war and civil strife. In creating her DVD, Low Relief II, she has employed a computer program to alter her documentary footage to resemble low-relief sculpture. The flattened, silvery, slow-motion images depict the daily struggle in Israel between political protesters (both Israeli and Palestinian) and government (in the form of police and soldiers). The repetitive nature of the events portrayed, the appearance of the imagery, and its projection above a doorway, as if over a triumphal arch””all evoke scenes of war and domination in the relief sculpture of ancient Mesopotamia.
Territory is indeed an evolving and amorphous show, and its outdoor installations and interventions, along with a series of guided walks through the city, have been as important as the work exhibited at Artspeak and PHG. For more information, pick up maps and brochures at the galleries or go to www.presentationhousegall.com/. And be aware. Be very aware.